Great Newton Street, Liverpool



Liverpool street sign named after Sir John Newton (1725-1807), slave trader turned evangelical preacher and abolitionist. John Newton went to sea with his father, a ship’s master, at the age of 11. In 1743 he was press-ganged into the Royal Navy. He became a midshipman but, following an attempt to desert, he was punished and demoted. He later requested a transfer onto a slave ship bound for West Africa. During his return to England in March 1748, Newton's ship was caught in a severe storm and he prayed for deliverance. Newton later reflected on this experience as a turning point and the beginning of his religious awakening. Between 1750 and 1754 Newton made further voyages as a slave ship commander. He kept extensive logs of these voyages, which provide a detailed account of life on board a slave ship. He gave up seafaring due to ill-health in 1754, though it would be some time before he fully renounced his support for the slave trade. Newton became involved in the evangelical Christian movement and was ordained in 1764. He quickly gained a reputation as a preacher and hymn writer, his most famous hymn being 'Amazing Grace'. In 1788, Newton published a pamphlet called 'Thoughts upon the African Slave Trade'. He included an apology for his role and described the awful things he had witnessed during his time as a slave trader. He gave evidence to the Parliamentary Commission that led to the abolition of the slave trade, and he campaigned with MP William Wilberforce. Sir John Newton died at the end of 1807, nine months after parliament had voted to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire. There is a memorial dedicated to his memory in the Pier Head Ferry Terminal building on Liverpool’s waterfront.